The Summit: weaving a new, multi-coloured fabric for development

It’s hard to believe that six weeks have passed since almost 400 of us from over 60 countries gathered in Johannesburg – in the heat of the South African summer – for the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy.

At the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) we are still digesting what came out of the Summit and how we can build the momentum it created, but we are also eager to hear from you.

Alina Porumb focuses on values underpinning community philanthropy in Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture

 

The 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize was awarded to Alina Porumb, Strategic Philanthropy Programme Director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC). On the occasion of the Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum, hosted by the China Foundation Center and held in Beijing from 23 – 24 November 2015, Alina Porumb delivered the Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture, focusing on the values underpinning community philanthropy in Romania: 

“The Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize is a great honour and a deeply meaningful recognition of my contribution to philanthropy.

Firstly, due to its connection to the memory of Olga: I remember her courageous, clear and strong voice at the international conferences that I attended. She was an advocate for philanthropy, but also for reflecting critically on our work and doing philanthropy well. Olga stands in my memory as a person of high integrity and high standards, as someone for whom half measures are not enough, who is great at identifying the next step and seeing the potential of each situation. I am grateful for the community of philanthropy professionals around the world who took on the responsibility of managing the Award. Though this, they are bringing to surface inspirational leaders and great work in the field of philanthropy globally, expanding the reach of these practices. Thank you for keeping Olga’s voice strong. Thank you for carrying her legacy. Thank you for taking the next step for a community of sharing, learning and appreciation between peers working to expand philanthropy in contexts in which it is not yet mainstream.

Secondly, this prize is meaningful because it can be celebrated among peers. I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence. Many of my fellow nominees have been engaged in this work for at least 10 years and sometimes longer. I am honored to be part of a community of philanthropy practitioners in emerging societies, one that understands, values and appreciates the complexity as well as creativity of this work.

Thirdly, it is very meaningful to me that this nomination came from the Romanian community foundations, a field that I have helped build and expand. This feedback from the field and the genuine appreciation beyond divides of institutional politics, in a context in which we’re better at criticizing than supporting those who take leadership, was deeply moving to me. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, is truly a gift. It cannot be demanded, it can only be offered. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, helps build communities and heals the wounds of division and isolation that we feel in our work. It also helps foster and expand the talents inside that community.

The Romanian community foundations movement has grown in the last ten years, from an idea to 15 foundations (and still counting). More than 40% of the Romanian population has now access to a community foundation, and newer ones can base their work on the experiences of other communities.

The success for the community foundations in Romania is not the result of my work. It is the result of many talented and inspiring leaders – both from community foundations, but also from partners, donors and support organizations in Romania and internationally. My role was rather in building and safeguarding a space where all these talents and resources could come together and strengthen each other; a long term perspective that offered inspiration and guidance; and a fierce belief that through steady work, obstacles will gradually dissolve, that even if we don’t yet know how, we will learn to make it through.

I have brought to this work the values of my generation and my cultural space. I was 13 when Romania has changed a long-term totalitarian regime and started with high hopes, but fragile steps, to build itself as a democratic society, learning from the experience of other countries and reconnecting with its own past. But even before this change, signs of freedom were growing stronger in society. I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy. I was 19 when I translated a workshop on advocacy, 21 when I started a local branch of a democracy NGO, 25 when I led a research on the grantmakers support for NGOs in Romania.

Being a part of the international philanthropic community, I have learned about community foundations being centers of hope, about the need to invest trust and look for leaders who will be there ten years onward, carrying their work with passion. C.S. Mott Foundation, WINGS, Global Fund for Community Foundations, The Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at CUNY, Center for Philanthropy Slovakia, UK, Canada and US (community) foundations networks have provided opportunities for learning for me and my Romanian colleagues and we are deeply grateful for this support. I listened to professionals around the world, but more importantly I have observed them in action and been inspired by their work and leadership. This way, I could create my own understanding of what good philanthropy practice is. Then I tried it out and learned from what was working and what was failing. Having received all this knowledge and support, there was no choice but to pass it forward, to encourage leaders of communities to find their inspiration and then refine their own understanding through action and reflection. I have recently heard the story of a donor who felt morally obliged to donate for a scholarship because his grandfather had been supported as well to get higher education more than 50 years ago. We know from our experience that generosity multiplies. Each gift we make will motivate others to give as well and each courageous act we take will inspire others too. So please keep doing this good work.

Some highlights of community foundations work in Romania:

  • Over 1.5 million US$ were invested in local communities through more than 1000 grants and 500 scholarships.
  • Over 10,000 donors contributed only in the last year through sport-based fundraising events.
  • Romanians have a strong interest in supporting children and youth and the future leaders, with about one forth of the grants and all scholarship going towards education. Health, social needs, community spaces, culture and environment are the next supported fields.
  • Many community foundations support giving circles and youth-led philanthropy.

All this work comes with a high level of energy and creativity, a drive to see opportunities and find ways to deal with challenges. It also comes with a strong amplifying effect, creating a movement of generous and active people and communities across Romania. Also, beyond these more immediate results, the key success of the program lays in the creation of a sustainable local infrastructure for philanthropy and civil society engagement that continues to expand and diversify its work.

I would venture to say that the success of community foundations is a combination of broad trends in Romanian society and good timing. But the driving force is the quality of the leadership, with generous and committed individuals supporting this work, each in its role, from local to international levels. In the Romanian context, this came through the emergence of a layer of young professionals, educated after the transition to democracy and connected to what was happening internationally through travel, work or Internet. Together with an active choice to stay in their community, to build a family and invest in the future of their children, they have become more aware of the resources they had as well as the need to look for community based (rather than individual) solutions.

My exciting job was to find and support these motivated leaders and offer, through a network of engaged partners and supporters, access to knowledge and flexible financial support, that allowed for local decision-making on priorities. Study trips, workshops and conferences were helpful in knowing local and international practices, but also in building a ‘community of community foundations’.

What is next? While community foundations managed to reach out to mobile and active parts of the communities and engage them in taking leadership to support local needs, there are still many complex issues facing more vulnerable and excluded groups. There are already successful examples of community foundations supporting inter-generational projects, reaching out to rural areas and acting against discrimination of roma, but all these are areas that call for further engagement. There is a need to stimulate communities to look beyond what they know and are familiar with, towards spaces and groups that they don’t yet know so well, to help them bridge their inner divides, build trust and practice the values of generosity and solidarity. Or in the words of Bucharest community foundation, to support all the inhabitants of their community to feel at home.

Why is it important to continue to build philanthropy based on these values? Latest events, many violent and traumatic, have placed a mirror for our societies to help us define how we want to go about building our future. As of last week, Romania has a new government, with the previous one resigning after massive protests sparked by a fire with tragic consequences at a rock concert in a club with the symbolic name of Colectiv (collective) two weeks ago. Over 50 people lost their lives and over 150 were injured.

The fire had such strong consequences due to poor design and implementation of fire safety regulations. After the event, lots of similar places, but also schools, kindergartens, concerts or sport arenas were revealed to be missing the ‘stamp’ of the from fire department, pointing to a systemic problem. The public accused the corruption, but also lack of care from politicians to issues of public safety. Good debates were carried, but there was also lots of anger and collective blaming.

Romania called for better leaders and competent managers, but also for reflection on how each of us contributes to maintaining a public system that under performs. Clarifying the space of society in the act of governance became a central piece of the debate. While Romanian society is no longer patient, these are exactly the type of changes that cannot happen from one day to the other, the type of changes that require long term vision, collective talent and gradual built up that community foundations can aspire to contribute to. There is a need for a long-term, systemic and ‘quiet and long term revolution’ as my colleague from Sibiu community foundation calls our work.

Colectiv fire and the collective wake-up call that it has sparked came in a wider context of tragic violence cause by terrorism and extremism internationally. Within just two weeks, a Russian plane was crashed, a suicide bombing took place in Beirut and a series of killings with automatic guns took place in Paris. Romania had not recovered yet from the emotions of the Colectiv tragedy, but has been horrified to learn about the events in Paris. Some, but much less, found out about the events in Beirut as well. And reactions of solidarity and shock, of fear and defensiveness as well as of prejudgment and discrimination continued as they did in other places in the world as well.

A poignant sign posted in the Romanian debates was showing that ‘we want change, but we don’t want to be the ones to change’. It carries a strong message that more people are ready to stop the blame game and take responsibility. Even if what happens to our world is so far from us that we cannot fully understand or relate to. Even if we feel overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the issues. Even there is not a balanced reflection in the international media of all these events or particularly when these events are reflected differently through the lenses of geography, ethnicity, race or religion. We see how violence and fear lead to more violence, but also to more fear, stereotyping, and closing in. What happens globally is strongly linked with the local and national realities. From all the corners of the world we need to step in to care for the whole world. It is our world too.

Individually and collectively, we need to take responsibility beyond our immediate environment. To practice generosity, solidarity and compassion, the values connected to the understanding of philanthropy as ‘love for humankind’. And practice less acceptance of intolerance. We need to step up our game and really reflect if our philanthropy practice is truly based on all these values. Also to think what we can do to further promote them further, proactively engaging faith based and secular communities, media and IT, businesses and government, friends, families and organizations in making sure that our societies are really based on the philanthropic values of solidarity and compassion. And the more resources we have – access to knowledge, networks, money, time or talent – the more these also come with a responsibility for the whole, be it a community or the world.

In light of these challenges, let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?

Even if we don’t yet know how, together we can learn to make it through.”

A field comes of age! Announcing the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy, Johannesburg, 1 – 2 December 2016

A lot can change in a decade. In December 2004, a gathering in chilly Berlin marked an important moment for the global community foundation movement. 162 people – practitioners, funders, researchers – from over 30 countries came together for the first global meeting on the state of the field. The Community Foundation Symposium was organized by WINGS, with support from the Ford Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

It will be exactly twelve years since Berlin that a follow-up meeting – similarly global in nature – will be held. Back in 2004, Central and Eastern Europe represented a hot-bed of community foundation development following the dramatic political, social and economic changes that followed the demise of the Soviet Union. There were community foundations in other parts of the world, yes, but in far fewer numbers. It is perhaps fitting therefore, that the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy – to be held 1 – 2 December 2016 – will be taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, signifying an important and more recent shift in the growth of community philanthropy to include many more countries in the Global South. WINGS, the Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation are all still engaged in the community foundation field but new actors, networks and supporters have also emerged as part of this expanded landscape. So this time, the hosts of the meeting will include the Global Fund for Community Foundation, the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy and the Southern Africa Trust.

Photo courtesy of Kenya Community Development Foundation

There have been many other developments in the last decade too, both in terms of how and where the field has developed and the backdrop against which these developments are taking place:

  • Increased numbers: Numbers alone aren’t everything, but it is worth noting that the grand total of community foundations noted in 2004 was 1,175. The number listed today on the Community Foundation Atlas is 1,838 and that is probably a rather conservative estimate. (Oh and there is another good example of the evolving landscape for community philanthropy: the Community Foundation Atlas, which was launched in 2014, is an enormously rich source of data provided by individual organizations on both the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the field).

 

  • Evolving definitions – community foundations / community philanthropy: The “community foundation” identity is well-established in certain parts of the world, where civil society is more developed and organized – and where specific groups mean a more targeted set of supports around shared issues. However, in recent years there has been an important shift from a narrower definitional understanding of what defines a “community foundation”, to a broader, more inclusive and perhaps slightly messier idea of a “community philanthropy field.” This “field” is highly diverse, and includes community foundations, grassroots grantmakers, women’s funds, environmental funds etc. all of which share certain characteristics (that include building assets, capacities and trust, to put it very succinctly) and all of which are distinct from both private donor institutions and regular, service delivery or issue-focused types of NGOs.
  • Emerging practice: Community philanthropy – with its emphasis on strengthening communities through grants and technical support on the one hand, and on harnessing and building different kinds of local assets on the other – offers both a new conceptual space as well as new models of practice. These include tools like community-level decision-making around the allocation of grant resources, promoting and valuing local giving and other kinds of local assets, and innovative financing models such as community or affiliated funds.
  • New actors, new networks: In the past community philanthropy – as a field and as a practice – has not traditionally been part of mainstream development. The creation of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which includes a range of private and public sector donors (including, for the first time, USAID) marks an important moment for the field. Also important is the more recent emergence of “Emerging Markets Philanthropy” and the particular relevance of community philanthropy as a strategy for oiling the machinery of effective local NGO sectors and for new approaches to local giving in low-trust environments.
  • Safeguarding spaces for civil society while rethinking aid: The 2015 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report highlights concerns regarding the recent assaults on civil society – and in particular, the regulatory spaces in which it operates – in a growing number of countries. These have resulted in reductions in foreign funding, or access to foreign funding for civil society activity, in countries such as India and Russia. The report also notes that, despite efforts to reform how development aid is disbursed, it is still the case that little development aid reaches civil society organizations in target countries, the majority still being channelled through Northern counterparts. Concerns around the closing space for civil society have also been raised by funder networks, such as ARIADNE and the International Human Rights Funders Group, as well as by individual Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy members. There is also an urgent need to address the external Northern bias in disbursement and decision-making around development aid. This has started to move up various multilateral and bilateral aid agendas, providing new opportunities to argue for the role of locally rooted grantmakers / community philanthropy organizations in devolving resources and decision-making to actors that closer to the ground.
  • New conversations, new issues and linking to other sectors: In recent years, new sets of relationships and partnerships have emerged between community philanthropy and other parts of the development landscape, including international and national development programmes, other parts of civil society, INGOs, local philanthropic sectors, and corporations, to name but a few. Whether it is around community philanthropy in the context of disaster response, as a strategy for facilitating multi-stakeholder development around the benefits derived from mining, new models for sustainability that can support the people-focused programmes of INGOs or strengthening the practice of grassroots grantmaking, the Summit will offer a unique and important opportunity to bring some of these emerging conversations to a broader audience.

 

Your ideas…your participation

As the planning process gets underway, we welcome ideas for topics, formats, speakers for the Summit. Whether it is climate change, social justice, community development or more of the nuts and bolts of the practical side work, whether you want to participate in sessions in other languages apart from English (Spanish, French, Russian, for example?) or to bring examples of new partnerships with other actors (INGOs, diaspora, extractive industries)… let us know!

We will be sending more formal requests for session proposals and other ideas in the coming weeks. But for now, if you have a burning idea, please don’t wait but send it to us at info@cpsummit.ngo!

 

Visit the Summit website

Joining the global conversation towards the UN’s World Humanitarian Summit: Positioning community philanthropy and the resilience agenda

Volunteers from Tewa, in Kathmandu, respond to April 2015 earthquakeHow can different actors – governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector – work together to address humanitarian effectiveness and serve the needs of people in conflict? These are some of the questions to be addressed at the first World Humanitarian Summit, an initiative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will be held in Istanbul in May 2016.

As part of the learning and evidence building agenda of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, the GFCF has been engaged in an ongoing research and consultation process on the potential and importance of local level foundations’ role in disaster response. In July 2015, Avila Kilmurray presented a paper on this theme at a Humanitarian Innovation Conference at Oxford University, one of a number of preparatory events to lay the basis for the World Humanitarian Summit.

Recent years have seen the emergence of community philanthropy organizations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Global South. Many of these new kinds of institutions find areas that have experienced natural disasters/emergencies, the impact of violent political conflict, or indeed, the complexities where both circumstances overlap. There is, however, a growing body of evidence to suggest that locally based community philanthropy organizations have considerable potential to complement humanitarian efforts and interests through:

 

  • Supporting the voice and participation of affected peoples and communities;
  • Promoting programmes of disaster/emergency preparedness;
  • Managing funding programmes that can contribute to long term community reconstruction and resilience;
  • Managing funding programmes that can underpin efforts for peacebuilding and conflict transformation; and,
  • Contributing towards the building of relations through networking and policy convening on issues of importance in fragmented communities.

 

Download the GFCF’s paper

Browse all submissions to the Summit

Philanthropy needs to step up its game, fight intolerance, live its values: 3rd Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize winner, Alina Porumb, tells Beijing conference

Alina Porumb, strategic philanthropy programme director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC), accepted the 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize at the Second Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum in Beijing on 23 November.

The core of Alina Porumb’s work in the last ten years has been helping to create an active community foundations movement in Romania. There are now 15 community foundations in Romania, and 10,000 Romanians gave to sports-focused public fundraising events in the last year. “In addition to the numbers,” wrote one judge, “she has been successful at helping people break through the psychological barrier of authoritarianism and having individuals collaborate to work on community problems.”

Each year, the prize winner is invited to give a speech. Before an audience of philanthropy practitioners and supporters in Beijing, Alina recounted how she had been 13 when Romania underwent the transition from totalitarian regime to young democracy. Even before then, she said, “I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy.”

To her fellow nominees and the rest of the audience, Alina acknowledged that none of this work to nurture and grow new cultures and practices of effective, accountable and transparent philanthropy is easy: “I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence.”

Fellow nominees and organizers join Alina Porumb on stage in Beijing

In closing, Alina reflected that now, more than ever and at a time when communities are coming under pressure and insecurities are easily exploited phlanthropy need to stand firm in defence of such values as generosity, solidarity, compassion and act against intolerance.

“Let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?”

The other finalists were:

Read the full speech

Find out more about the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize

UK Community Foundations conference focuses on leadership

A peace wall visited during the UKCF Belfast conference, © J. DuckworthLeadership that has the potential to transform vision into reality was the theme of the UK Community Foundations (UKCF) conference held in Belfast in September. Over 250 delegates workshopped, master-classed and shook a foot or two at the traditional ceilidh sessions to ground their respective realities. Voices from across the Atlantic, in the form of Paul Schmitz of Leading Inside Out and Rahul Bhardwaj of the Toronto Foundation explored leadership from the community up. The mandatory tour of the ironically named Belfast “peace walls”, in contrast took many of the UK delegates by surprise. How can one translate this stark reality into a vision in this still physically divided society – many asked. “But I thought it was all over”, said another delegate in a startled tone. Well yes – but!

 

Forging European solidarity

A pre-conference session on “Exploring community foundations: Their roles and prospects across Europe” brought together representatives from a range of community foundations in Central and Eastern Europe to discuss an update on the state of philanthropy in Europe. In addition to the growing numbers of community foundations (much assisted by the consistent investment by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation) a number of transformative trends were identified that, while context specific, were seen as expanding the role of community philanthropy. Nurturing participation and building social capital were both high on the list shared by Professor Haralan Alexandrov of the New Bulgarian University. He argued the importance of the sometimes intangible contribution of community foundations, such as offering a responsive, caring approach to community needs as compared to the more rigid bureaucratic practices. He also noted the work of community philanthropy in the area of cultural and community identity, a particularly sensitive topic in many parts of Europe at present. Community foundations are managing to strike a delicate balance between protecting local cultural artefacts and symbols while, at the same time, introducing new concepts and ideas. They are a core factor in empowering communities to “re-invent themselves” in the face of globalization.

Specific examples of current challenges were shared by Johanna Von Hammerstein, CEO of the BὒrgerStiftung Hamburg and by Jasna Jasarevic, Executive Director of the Tuzla Community Foundation. Jasna described the intensive programme of work with 20 different communities that are supported to work together in an inclusive manner; while Johanna reflected on the power of arts and culture to encourage participation. The issue of inclusion was taken up in a sharing of experiences and challenges around the inclusion of members of the Roma community across Europe. Beata Hirt of the Healthy City Community Foundation reflected on her experience in Slovakia over the past two decades, where initially developmental programmes had to be put in place to ensure Roma participation. But while this approach was no longer needed, there are still societal challenges where people fear difference. The recent advent of refugees in Europe was also felt to increase the risk of a popular politics that is exclusionary in nature, although Irene Armbruster, CEO of the BὒrgerStiftung Stuttgart, commented on the number of new volunteers that were getting in touch in order to offer support to the refugee families that are arriving in Germany.

Modelling community foundation support and exchange across Europe, Hans Fleisch, Secretary General Association of the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Association of German Foundations) outlined the main pillars of a new European Community Foundation Initiative that will focus on fostering leadership by peer learning and exchanges, as well as raising the profile of community philanthropy in Europe through studies, donor education and advocacy. The initial five year programme of work is being taken forward by the Association of German Foundations, Center for Philanthropy in Slovakia and UKCF, around a six point strategic plan due to be rolled out in 2016.  One aspect of the work will see the design of a European conference for community foundations, to raise greater awareness and support networking across Europe.

UKCF Delegates convene at Belfast’s Assembly Hall, © J. Duckworth

 

Has community philanthropy a role in supporting refugees?

This was the question that was asked at a GFCF Breakfast meeting during the UKCF gathering. Some 20 representatives of community foundations from Romania, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and the UK agreed that there was a contribution to be made, although to be effective it needed to be context sensitive and coordinated with more general civil society responses. Tamas Sasaurszki of the Ferencvaros Community Foundation outlined the current situation in Hungary, which is caught between official political reaction and the practical response of many local volunteers in helping the refugees passing through their country. The fact that the people coming forward to volunteer are often from outside the traditional NGO sector was noted as a potential opportunity for greater participation in the future, but also a phenomenon that community foundations need to be able to respond to. The community foundations in Milton Keynes and Kent, in the south-east of England, described the immediate pressures, including the position of unaccompanied children arriving in their communities.

It was agreed that follow up consultation would be useful in order to share more detailed information and to provide a platform for linking with other philanthropic initiatives. The GFCF has also launched a survey in this regard, in order to map the various community foundations reacting to the refugee crisis across Europe. Indeed, many community foundation activists in Eastern Europe already have direct experience of living through, and organizing, in the face of societal change. This offers a real opportunity to bring vision and reality together through the principle of solidarity.

Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director – Policy & Strategy 

Brazil, and the growth of community philanthropy

Community foundations and funds are increasing in number in Brazil, but are still just the tip of the philanthropic iceberg in this sprawling country of over 203 million people. They are working in a nation of contrasts, with the 2014 Forbes Annual Report listing 65 Brazilian billionaires, while 21.4% of the population live below the World Bank poverty line (2012) and 16% exist in conditions of abject poverty. It is also striking that only three in ten of the poorest 20% of the population are white, but they comprise seven in ten of the richest 20%. This context frames the development of both place-based and issue-focused local philanthropy, as does the legacy of experience and attitudes.

 

The Olympic city

Rio de Janeiro is playing host to the 2016 Olympic Games that will take place in the very area of the city prioritized by Instituto Rio (IR) for its work – the populous West Zone. As the first community foundation in Brazil, IR was established in 2000 and began its grantmaking in 2003. Since that time it has supported 222 projects in 80 community-based organizations. The grants are relatively modest ($2500 – $4000 USD) but they come with an impressive added-value programme of shared learning delivered through the imaginative Community University of the West Zone (Universidade Comunitária da Zona Oeste). The virtual university recognizes the expertise garnered by local activists and creates networks for peer exchange. IR Chief Executive, Graciela Hopstein is the first to acknowledge that local fund development is still a challenge, but given its location it would be a shame if the 2016 Olympics comes to Rio, and leaves again, without directly benefiting both IR and the communities that it is supporting.

Graciela Hopstein (L) and Avila Kilmurray (2nd L) in RioAcross the city, just a stone’s throw away from the linha vermelha, a main route into the city centre, Eliana Sousa Silva has a gleam in her eye as she talks about establishing a community foundation in Bairro Maré. Bairro Maré has a population of 140,000 in a favela that consists of a warren of streets stretching across sixteen distinct neighbourhoods. Eliana is a founder member of the Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré and has been active over eighteen years in supporting community action in an area that was not even mapped by the municipal authorities. In partnership with the Observatόrio de Favelas local activists in the Bairro took matters into their own hands, carrying out a local census, giving the streets names and the houses numbers, and convincing the authorities to “make visible a population that was invisible.” Other community initiatives focus on education, health, development through the arts and public safety. A community newspaper is delivered door to door, with a circulation of 40,000 copies, on a monthly basis. The challenge for Eliana and her colleagues is how to both keep the community momentum going and how to plan for the long term. The Redes feels that part of the answer may be found in setting up a community foundation that could enable local people to become decision-makers in their own right. “Usually people are waiting – spectators of their environment”, explains Eliana, a local community foundation could be a mechanism to help shift the power paradigm in the longer term. What Eliana now needs is information, ideas and support in taking the next step.

 

An integrated model of community support

Working in Maranhão, one of the poorest states in Brazil, the Baixada Institute was established in 2008 by community leaders in the area. Regina Cabral, an Ashoka Fellow (2010) was a founder member of the Instituto Formaҫāo which was a formative influence in the development of the Baixada Institute. The focus of both the Baixada Institute, as the local community foundation, and the Instituto Formaҫāo, as a development agency, is to work with local communities in the rural areas of Baixada Maranhense that are clustered in the north-east corner of Brazil. The area has a population of some 250,000 and has a history of labour migration and violent conflict over land rights. Regina speaks about the importance of investing in young people, raising their aspirations through education, sport, the arts and skills training. An important area of development has been in agri-ecology, where a combination of technical assistance, seeding grants and encouragement has resulted in pilot income generation horticultural projects, many carried out with black and quilombola (ex-slave) communities. Work over the years has resulted in the opening of fourteen Information Technology centres, with adjoining youth support centres, in rural towns and villages across the region. The idea of the community foundation (Fundaҫão Comunitária na Baixada Maranhense) came out of consultation with both young activists and community-based organizations. The community foundation continues to place a high priority on local consultation.

The Instituto Baixada operates from its own premises and was set up with initial financial support from the Kellogg Foundation. Among its goals is the support of community initiatives that empower local organizations and foster regional development. Fund development is also on the agenda and a donor network (Embaixadeiros Doadores) works to secure local donations. Regina explains that there is still a need for external support particularly given the developmental focus of the work which is seen by some as being at odds with traditional charitable giving. The work of the foundation is underpinned by a network of volunteers, which is found to be as beneficial as donations – although both are welcome.

With its concentration on Baixada Maranhense, Instituto Baixada draws on the networks and community insights built by Institute Formaҫāo, and other voluntary sector organizations, over the years. This allows strong lines of communication between the community foundation and local activists. It also ensures that there is transparency and a sense of mutual accountability in how Instituto Baixada delivers on its objectives. As to the next priority – the Institute Formaҫāo is working with communities in selected rural towns to open seven libraries, located in a range of venues. The Instituto Baixada plans to support this venture by allocating some $42,000 USD to purchase books. A seeding grant awarded to a group of young people involved in developing a community library last year already acted as a demonstration project.

 

Florianopolis – the southern Silicon Valley

ICom was established in 2005 as the second community foundation in Brazil. Working in Florianopolis, the second largest city in the southern state of Santa Catarina, this foundation emphasizes the importance of development support and capacity-building for local community and voluntary organizations. In order to counter public scepticism about the NGO sector it developed a transparency portal which holds detailed information on local organizations. ICom also facilitates training and professional development courses in order to promote institutional growth within organizations. Alongside its developmental objective of strengthening non-profit organizations,  ICom also prioritizes knowledge production and community mobilization that it achieves through its Vital Signs research (adapted from the Community Foundations of Canada model); working with donors and social innovation.

The work with donors is long-term and time consuming, not helped by the complexities of Brazilian tax and fiscal regulations, however, ICom Executive Director, Anderson Giovani da Silva is celebrating a major gift received recently from an individual donor who has been involved with ICom over a number of years. Anderson rules out direct fundraising activities and events as he does not want to be in competition with the local organizations that ICom is supporting. It is the area of social innovation where ICom has made a specific contribution, opening its offices as a Centre for Social Innovation and sharing them with social entrepreneurs. A new start-up 3 D design company currently operates from the space, with Anderson also being involved in raising funding for investment in a high quality movie – featuring four stories of young people using technology for social change purposes. A grant from the Inter-American Foundation is currently supporting the development of this centre. Anderson’s belief in the power of innovative design thinking to progress social change and bring a new dimension to the philanthropy of the future can be seen in ICom’s partnership with the Institute of Volunteering in taking a stake in Social Good Brazil.

The ICom office, operating as a Centre for Social InnovationThis has now spun off as an independent entity but re-invests a donor advised fund with ICom. Both ICom and Social Good Brazil are partners in an annual call for design ideas for products that can address social issues in an imaginative way. Piloted in 2013, fifty social entrepreneurs were invited to participate and receive mentoring through a Social Design Lab; they also benefited from $250 USD seed funding that ICom managed. One example of work supported was an app for use in the case of domestic violence. Participants were initially drawn from Florianopolis, but the popularity of the programme has resulted in it being extended to São Paulo. This may not be community philanthropy as it is commonly understood, but it seems to be a model that is working in Florianopolis, a city that prides itself as a technology hub.

 

New community funds emerging

Two recent developments have seen the emergence of a community fund and a community foundation in the East Zone of São Paulo and southern Bahia respectively, two very different contexts. With a population of ten million, São Paulo is the world’s third largest city, but the Fundaҫão Tide Setubal – a family foundation – concentrated its energies in the São Miguel district of the East Zone. The foundation became particularly known for its programmes of work with young people and investment in family support. Adopting a new approach the foundation decided to establish the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável as a five year pilot exercise which was inspired by a discussion about community foundations involving a number of local stakeholders. An Oversight Board for the initiative was set up and a Monitoring and Evaluation Board, drawing on expertise from a local university. The Fund itself is focusing on business start-ups and technical support, funding 31 projects to date. Amongst those benefiting is a garbage collectors’ cooperative. One of the three staff members employed by the Fund emphasizes that it is still a community fund rather than a foundation – the jury is still out as to whether it will develop into a community foundation.

Roberto Vilela, working with the recently established community foundation in southern Bahia, is celebrating the fact that a recent grant call attracted 65 applications. The Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário was set up in 2013 with initial funding being put in place by Instituto Arapyaū, the World Bank and a foundation established by documentary filmmaker, Joāo Moreira Salles. Tabôa operates in the Uruҫuca region of Bahia which faces challenges of degradation of natural resources, economic inequality and under attainment in education. Consequently the new community foundation is prioritizing the strengthening of grassroots development associations and supporting community tourism projects that benefit local people. As a good grantmaker, Roberto is already thinking about how to respond to those grant applicants that may not be successful in being funded under the current round. He wants the application process to be empowering and is keen to build capacity and learning for local organizations. Decision-making in the community foundation is already participative, with the board currently made up of five representatives from the donors and five people from the local community.

 

A comparative approach to community foundation development

Representatives from the four Brazilian community foundations, as well as from the Fondo Zona Leste Sustentável and Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré all attended a two-day conference on philanthropy for social justice organized in July by the Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice. Joining with a number of other issue-focused funders the gathering recognized the need to create a narrative capable of motivating people to address issues of structural inequality and implicit racism. A follow-on seminar on the specific role of community philanthropy highlighted the important dimension of local engagement that community foundations can offer, although concerns were expressed at continuing difficulties in attracting a mix of donors to invest in this work.

Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice, July 2015What became apparent over the course of the seminar is that Brazil offers a fascinating insight into how community foundations can emerge and be incubated through a variety of approaches. The origins of both Instituto Rio and ICom were influenced by the North American model of community foundations, fostered through international contacts and support. Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário has developed as an initiative of Instituto Arapyaū with a similar progression route to the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável, should it decide to pursue this course further; whilst Instituto Baixada shares a sense of rooted local development that also characterizes the plans of Redes des Desenvolvimente da Maré. This latter phenomenon of community foundations, or funds, developing as mechanisms of sustainability for locality-based or regional community development is emerging in other country contexts as well. The comparative nature of the incubation and growth of community foundations in Brazil offers an important opportunity to track both opportunities and challenges presented by these different development paths and to welcome the diversity that is a response to local context.

 

By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy

The little development engine that could

This piece originally appeared on the Devex website

By: Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant and former Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives 

It’s not big. It’s not shiny. But there is a promising train of sustainable funding for local priorities, and it has been largely missing from discussions of country ownership and financing for development. What is this overlooked and underappreciated engine of growth? Community philanthropy.

Community philanthropy refers to foundations and other social enterprises that are funded and controlled by members of the communities they serve. They raise significant amounts of money locally from individuals and businesses, spend money locally through small grants for worthy projects, and are held accountable by local communities. You can’t get any more “locally owned” than that.

As an example, a women’s fund in Nepal, known as Tewa, has mobilized contributions from 3,000 Nepalese donors to invest in local grass-roots institutions. Its model of emphasizing small philanthropic gifts has taught women how to be responsible donors as well as grantees, and given them the tools to overcome dependency and powerlessness.

Likewise, Kenya’s Makutano Community Development Association undertook a long-term commitment to building community capacity, resulting in the construction of a road, nine dams, 17 wells, 162 pit latrines and a secondary school, as well as putting 10,000 acres of land to productive use.

While international donors, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, routinely look for local organizations that can distribute and administer “umbrella grants,” community philanthropy is something different. These foundations are not the fiscal and programmatic agents of foreign funders, nor are they simply service providers. They are grantors in their own right…

To read the full article, please visit the Devex website. 

Acknowledge the power imbalances and act!

 

This piece, written by Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director, originally appeared on the European Foundation Centre website.

 

As the United Nations prepares to release a new set of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the current architecture of the international development sector. The good news is that, according to United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the MDGs have reduced extreme poverty by half although the benefits have not always been evenly spread geographically and there has been less success on key goals relating to women and children.

However, in the pursuit of poverty alleviation and other global development objectives over the last few decades, the donor community has at the same time contributed to the creation of a global development “industry”. This has turned many NGOs (global and local) into highly skilled proposal writers, budget-jugglers and masters of development jargon, who compete with each other to serve the needs and requirements of external funders.

The impact of international funding has also distorted our sense of time (a five-year development project can be considered long-term) and created lines of “accountability” (a slippery, multi-directional word much bandied about in development discourse) which drive upwards and outwards, and result in hefty reports landing on desks in London, Brussels or Washington, far away from the very people that the development sector is meant to be serving.

 

Community philanthropy: Offering an alternative model of development

It was this frustration that, 17 years ago, led to the creation of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), Kenya’s first public foundation. KCDF was established by local civil society leaders who were exasperated by what they saw as years of international development programmes in Kenya undermining rather than fostering local agency, in which people were relegated to the role of “beneficiaries” with “needs”, rather than as citizens with assets who could play an active role in their own development. They also saw how Kenya’s rich systems of mutual giving, as well as its growing middle and wealthy classes, were never part of the local development equation and wanted to create a local institution that could both build up the capacities of local organisations and at the same time, harness local assets and resources in new and strategic ways. It is the same frustration that is today fuelling the creation of the Haiti Community Foundation, a project inspired by the perception that despite the millions of dollars in aid being channelled into the country (particularly following the January 2010 earthquake), most of it was going to international organisations, with little investment in building Haitian institutions that could serve people over the long-term.

These are just two examples of a new breed of locally-driven and locally-shaped community philanthropies and indigenous foundations that are emerging around the world. Although this “family” of institutions – which includes community foundations, national foundations, issue-based funds and other grassroots grantmakers – may differ in terms of context and origins, they are all seeking to model new types of philanthropic behaviour and practice by harnessing local resources and traditions of giving, blending them with new institutional forms. They do this in a number of ways:

  • By using small grants to support initiatives and build the capacities of grassroots groups, which tend to slip under the radar of most international donors. Small grants are also highly effective when it comes to building up a local donor base in places where public trust in institutions is low: they can be easily and transparently tracked rather than disappearing into institutional costs (nothing symbolises the “mystery” of development and puts local donors off more than the four-wheel drive car!), and they are also proof of the fact that development doesn’t always require big money but instead sustained and targeted support that can catalyse local action.
  • By building up a local support base. This is not just a funding strategy (although it certainly changes the power dynamics with external donors when an organisation can bring its own locally-sourced resources to the table) but also derives from the belief that development outcomes are more lasting when people invest their own resources.
  • By playing this double role as both a hub for local asset development and a developmental grantmaker, these organisations are able to act as a bridge between different sections of a community, linking resources and needs, as well as goodwill and good ideas. This unique, horizontal “linking” role is one that most other NGOs are rarely positioned – or encouraged – to play, so entrenched are they in issue-based silos (another distorting effect of mainstream development, whereby everyone is a specialist and generalist organisations are seen as “lacking in focus”).
  • Finally, these organizations are often rich in social capital. When a community philanthropy organisation in Romania or Nepal has a support base of thousands of local donors, no matter how small the individual gifts, that surely says something about how embedded they are in their community, and how much the organisation is seen as part of that community rather than a construct introduced from above. Although the budgets of these institutions might be small, this aspect of local trust and buy-in is often something that gets overlooked, with international aid directing large amounts of money to competent NGOs on the basis of administrative / proposal-writing / English language capacities.

 

A changing landscape for aid: What role for donors and civil society?

The emergence of these new types of community philanthropy institutions is happening at a time when issues around ownership, flows and governance of resources are being seen as more critical than ever. As the established architecture for international aid is changing, so is the landscape in which it has traditionally operated. For traditional international donors, whose influence is already starting to diminish with the arrival of new forms of South-South cooperation (which often requires much less in terms of compliance), I would suggest that it is time to do some real soul-searching about the kind of legacy or footprint that they want to leave behind in developing contexts where they have already been active for decades. Some food for thought:

  • Think long-term and think holistically (even if just a little!). Of course, numbers matter particularly given the growing preoccupation with metrics in development, but there is also something short-sighted about only concentrating on the tangible, the countable, and the “bang for your buck.” Often, development projects seem to me like someone deciding to decorate just one room in a house, self-contained and beautiful, with all mod cons, but forgetting to check whether the plumbing works, the foundations are intact etc. How about investing in partner organisations so that they can plan for their future as a longer-term social good and so that when you leave, you leave them in good shape.
  • Local people-centred institutions matter. International development needs local NGOs but when they are shaped too much by external funding they might not be the kinds of NGOs that local people really want. Local civil society organisations can play an important role in negotiating with other institutional players (state, corporate etc.) but their ability to do also depends on some degree of legitimacy / local buy-in.
  • Acknowledge the power imbalances and act! I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard of a staff member in a community foundation who has moved on to an international NGO, where they will no doubt earn a bigger salary and greater prestige. There is something wrong with an aid system where international organisations end up poaching the best local talent and where local organisations are perceived as less “valuable” than international ones.

As the international aid community and its civil society partners reflect on the MDGs and look forward to the next round of development goals, it seems a good time to engage in some critical introspection, as well as some creative thinking. Civicus recently convened a conversation of activists aimed at exploring the extent to which civil society is “fit for purpose” in the context of current global challenges and the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which got going last year, brings together a range of public and private donors interested in better understanding how more horizontal forms of asset development can foster more sustainable development and what role international donors can play. These kinds of conversations are both timely and essential if international development is going to engage constructively around real issues of power and ownership.

Mott Foundation launches new community foundation microsite, sharing lessons and insights from 35 years of funding

To mark the centennial celebrations of the first community foundation established in the US, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has launched a new microsite, Cf100.mott.org, to share what they have learned over their more than 35 years supporting the field. The site offers key insights and highlights the foundation’s legacy of partnering with community foundations.

The Mott Foundation has bene a stalwart supporter of the field since the 1970’s, focusing its work around providing direct support to individual institutions, training global leaders, and developing a global network. Building local philanthropy has been a central part of the foundation’s strategy since its founding and the community foundation form continues to spread around the world as it helps ordinary citizens exercise their charitable impulse and, as Mott Foundation President and CEO William S. White notes in the site’s introductory video, the field keeps growing simply because “it makes so much sense.”

Visit the new Mott Foundation microsite